You Might Be Your Vet’s Worst Client and Not Know It


People who visit veterinarians’ offices with dogs and cats can be divided into three groups. There are angel clients, devil clients, and clients who fall somewhere in between. Most people fall into the last category, but there are some major advantages to being in the first one.

Angel clients definitely get the best treatment at veterinary clinics — and probably everywhere else for that matter. Do you have a concern about your cat’s health and need a last-minute appointment on a Saturday? If you’re an angel client, you’ll get it. Did the vet forget to charge you for your cat’s nail trim? If you’re an angel client, he’ll let it slide. An angel client who has a veterinary question at 9 p.m. will probably be able to get an answer, because vets often give their cell phone numbers to their best clients.

How does one become an angel client, with all of the attendant benefits? I believe to a certain extent angel clients are born rather than made. Being an angel client is a state of mind. One of my all-time favorite clients, Ms. D., was just about the nicest person I have ever met. And she wasn’t just nice to me and my staff. I saw her once at the grocery store, and I tried to say hello. However, I was thwarted by the throngs of grocery store employees who had crowded around to greet her. She was clearly one of their favorite customers, too.

What are the traits of vets’ favorite clients? It’s not just about being on time for appointments and paying the bill without grousing (although these are necessary components). It’s not just about bringing pastries for the staff (although pastries certainly help). It’s not just about being friendly and nice (although angel clients are always nice to all of the staff).

If it’s hard to pin down what exactly makes up an angel client, a good rule of thumb is: Angel clients are the exact opposite of devil clients.

What makes a devil client

Devil clients distinguish themselves in many ways, but there seems to be one universal characteristic. They spend way too much time on their cell phones. The distraction may be a conversation, a text messaging session, or a game, but it clearly is more important to them than their appointment with the vet.

Devil clients don’t take good care of their cats, and they don’t own cat carriers. When someone brings a dirty, flea-infested, never-vaccinated cat to my office in a cardboard box, I know there’s going to be trouble.

Devil clients make no effort to control the behavior of their feral children. Who on Earth thinks it’s okay to let a child draw on the waiting room chairs with permanent markers? Devil clients, that’s who. These same clients next may allow their kids to torment the cat during the exam. They don’t realize that repeatedly smacking a cat on the head during a veterinary exam adds to the cat’s stress and puts the kid at risk of a bite or scratch.

Devil clients show up late for their appointments and then throw a fit if they have to wait for even a minute to see the vet. They then get angry about the bill. It is not uncommon for a devil client to call his spouse on his iPhone 5 to rant about the price of services before driving off in his new Lexus.

Devil clients trust their breeder or their wife’s sister’s coworker’s friend who is a trainer more than they trust their vet. If your breeder told you that your kitten should never be dewormed because Persians are immune to worms but will suffer fatal reactions to worm medications (yes, I actually heard that once), then your breeder was wrong. If you’re a devil client, however, you will not accept the truth.

Devil clients let the vet explain a complicated illness in great detail for 10 minutes. They then state that they really aren’t the right person to make a decision about treatment, and ask that the vet call their spouse to explain it all again.

Devil clients try to bully their veterinarians with negative online reviews that are full of lies. By the way, does anyone really think those things are anonymous? We can figure out who wrote them. We also usually know where you work, if you get my drift. I’ve never actually exacted this sort of eye-for-an-eye type of revenge, but I’ll bet some vets have.

Devil clients pitch a fit when the vet asks to take their cat into the treatment area for a procedure. They don’t accept that it’s for their safety or for their cat’s safety, or that they might be getting in the way and adding to the cat’s stress level. They assume that something shady is going to happen.

Devil clients trash talk the last vet they saw. When I hear a client rant for ten minutes about how terrible Dr. X is (despite the fact that I know and respect Dr. X — it’s a small world, and all of the local vets know each other), I know who the client will complain about next: me.

Finally, devil clients lie. They most frequently lie to the receptionist, usually in an attempt to steal from the office. Here’s how it often plays out: The devil client tells the receptionist that the vet said the exam would be free. The receptionist then talks to the vet, and the client is busted. By the way, taking something without paying for it is stealing — even if that something is a service (such as a veterinary exam) rather than a product.

I am happy to say that in general devil clients are few and far between. The misery they attempt to spread is more than made up for by the happiness wrought by the angel clients. And devil clients also have a use: as contrarian indicators. I encourage everyone to be the exact opposite of them.

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and your topic might be featured in an upcoming column.
(Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

More on vets, people, and ethical quagmires:

ÔÇó How Not to Be a Complete Jerk at the Vet’s Office
ÔÇó Is It Always the Right Thing to Spay or Neuter a Cat?
ÔÇó What’s Euthanasia Like for a Vet? It Only Gets More Difficult

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